Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Court Hears of Alleged Hrtkovci House Seizure

Croat witness claims a Serb refugee took over her house, after Vojislav Seselj addressed rally.
By Katharina Goetze
A Croat woman told judges at the Hague tribunal this week how Serb refugees seized her home in northern Serbia shortly after ultranationalist politician Vojislav Seselj gave a speech calling on non-Serbs to be driven out of her village.



"The message of his speech was, 'You can't survive here. Get out of here, save your skin and that of your family,’" prosecution witness Katica Paulic told Seselj’s trial.



She recounted how at the rally held in her village of Hrtkovci, northern Serbia, in May 1992 the defendant himself read out a list of Croat residents who should leave this village.



Seselj, president of the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, is on trial for the murder and persecution of non-Serbs between 1991 and 1993, which is alleged to have been part of a wider effort to join territories within the former Yugoslavia into a single "Greater Serbia".



According to the indictment, Seselj instructed his associates to threaten non-Serbs with death if they did not leave.



The indictment states that the "homes of Croats [in Serbia] were looted and occupied by Serbs. Serb families who had been displaced from other parts of the former Yugoslavia often occupied the homes of those non-Serbs who had been compelled to leave".



Paulic said that after Seselj's speech a Serb refugee and her son took over her house.



"She was beside herself with happiness and couldn't believe her good luck. She thought of it as her house. She had one in Zagreb and she thought I should go there,” said Paulic, adding that she had tried to get the police to expel them but without success.



"After ten days, we realised that we have no choice."



Her fate, she said, had been shared by most of her neighbours and she knew of only one case where a man managed to regain his home from Serb refugees.



Paulic said that before 1992, Hrtkovci was a peaceful, predominantly Croat village, with good relations between families of different ethnicities. But that changed when war broke out in the Croatian town of Vukovar, which was seized by the Serb forces in November 1991.



When Seselj gave his speech in Hrtkovci on May 6, 1992, in which he issued threats against Croats and Hungarians, she went along to see what he had to say.



“Initially I did not want to go but I was curious. I wanted to see what this man wanted,” she said.



She went on to describe how Seselj told the crowd that the newly arrived Serbs needed houses and that the Croat residents of Hrtkovci would be transported to the border and should not count on coming back.



“He said ‘the Croat citizens will go on buses and the new authority will be us’ and then he pounded his chest. I saw many surprised faces, including some Serbs,” she said.



When asked by the judges whether Seselj himself read out the list of names of people who had to leave the village, Paulic confirmed that this was the case, and said those people named held prominent positions.



“People who had good jobs and high positions were named. People who had no land and houses were not affected,” she said.



The witness said she was surprised to hear Seselj address the 1,000-strong crowd as "brother and sister Serbs" during his hour-long speech. "After that people were intimidated,” she said.



In his cross-examination, Seselj, who is defending himself, asked Paulic if she had heard him say children of mixed marriages should be killed, as alleged by another witness who testified earlier at this trial.



She replied that she had not, but she had heard him say that all mixed marriages should be broken off.



Paulic said arriving Serb refugees insulted people and "attacked good houses". When Seselj asked her to clarify, she said the refugees would enter the yards of people’s houses and make threats. She said she herself was insulted on the street, but refused to say exactly how.



"I don't use swear words, I am a Catholic,” she said.



Seselj accused her of "inventing things" when she described the threatening behaviour of Serb refugees who came to the village in 1992.



"You are afraid to look me in the eyes and I can see that you are not telling the truth," he said.



When asked by the judges to stop asking that Paulic look him in the eyes, Seselj replied that a “truthful witness would look the person putting questions in the eyes”.



Seselj insisted on knowing why she did not look at him during her testimony and whether her conscience was at ease.



"You don't want to look me in the eyes out of spite,” he said.



"Why should I look at you? You are such an evil man."



“But you have never seen a more handsome man in your life,” he replied.



The trial continues.



Katharina Goetze is an IWPR reporter in London.

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